After escaping ‘religious cult’, Montana woman faces new challenges with honeyberry farm

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CORVALLIS — Melissa Allred is out to set examples with her life story, but it hasn’t been easy.

First and foremost, she’s out to prove she’s a successful agricultural entrepreneur who can overcome obstacles and severe setbacks. She wants to be a leader in demonstrating that honeyberries can be a viable commercial crop in Montana. Also called haskap, honeyberries are a sweet, juicy fruit that, although native to North America, haven’t been cultivated on a wide scale in Montana.

Second, and more importantly, Allred wants to prove that women who come from psychologically abusive situations can find freedom.

Allred, who escaped from what she calls a “polygamist religious cult” that she was born into — where she was groomed to marry into a plural marriage and submit to her husband and the church — now owns and operates the largest honeyberry farm in Montana.

On her 5-acre plot of land near Corvallis, she’s set out to pioneer the best ways to grow the crop while proving that her past doesn’t define who she is. She was always made to feel weak and inferior so she wouldn’t think about leaving. But building her farm from the ground up and overcoming all the doubt in her mind has changed her perspective.

“I’m a totally different person now,” Allred said. “I’m smart. I’m funny. I’m a go-getter. I can do a challenge. I’m reclaiming my whole identity of who I am. I’m rebuilding my life.”

After 19 years in a situation that she described as “intolerable,” Allred finally broke free. It wasn’t easy, because she didn’t have many legal assets or rights. She also had her children to take care of. But she knew one thing that gave her solace all those years.

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